March 17, 2016 / 2:44 PM / 2 years ago

Iraq's Sadr spurns calls to drop planned sit-in over 'bastion of corruption'

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Influential Iraqi Shi’ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr rejected calls to cancel a planned sit-in on Friday at the gates of Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, which he called “a bastion of support for corruption”.He published a statement on his website on Thursday in response to politicians who asked him to drop the protest over concern that it could lead to violence near the sensitive district, which houses government offices and embassies.

Prominent Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr (C) speaks during a protest against corruption at Tahrir Square in Baghdad February 26, 2016. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani

Sadr called last week for the sit-in to press Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to replace cabinet ministers with technocrats unaffiliated with political parties in order to counter systemic political patronage that has abetted corruption.

Abadi on March 11 asked political blocs in parliament and “influential social figures” to nominate technocrats but he is also under pressure from political factions not to erode their powerful influence.

Corruption is eating away the central government’s resources as it struggles with declining revenues due to rock-bottom oil prices while having to raise spending to fund the war against Islamic State militants.”It will be a peaceful sit-in in front of the gates of the Green Zone, which is considered a bastion of support for corruption,” Sadr said in his website statement.

He asked followers to refrain from any violent reaction should they be prevented by the security forces from holding the sit-in, and instead to await his instructions.

“We have other methods besides the sit-in (..) that are no less effective,” he said. “(But) no clashes, no weapons, no cutting off roads, no assaults, no disobedience.”Sadr, heir to a Shi’ite clerical dynasty in Shi’ite majority Iraq, has threatened a no-confidence vote in parliament unless technocratic ministers are named shortly.

But his al-Ahrar bloc commands just 34 of 328 seats in parliament, and since he may not be able to vote down an eventual new cabinet, he is resorting to street protests to maintain pressure on the prime minister, leveraging his popularity among poor Shi’ite districts of Baghdad.

Reporting Saif Hameed; Writing by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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